Nanotech group learns lessons from US tour

Loris Scandella (left) of Nanosurf mans the Location:Switzerland stand at the Nanotech Planet conference in San Jose, California

Swiss scientists and business people say they have learnt valuable lessons at the end of a week-long tour of the United States.

This content was published on May 16, 2002 - 07:54

The trip to Boston, Chicago and San Francisco was designed to showcase Switzerland's expertise in nanotechnology and lead to an exchange of ideas between the Swiss participants and their US counterparts.

"What I learnt here is that they focus much greater forces on one subject," said Karl Höhener, general manager of Top Nano 21, a government-sponsored initiative to further Swiss nanotechnology research.

Working together

"What we have to learn in Europe and especially in Switzerland is that we have to bring more people together working on one subject so that we have a higher critical mass."

Hannes Bleuler, professor of microengineering at the federal institute of technology in Lausanne, said it had been important for the group to come and see what was going on in the US but that Switzerland could also be proud of what it was doing.

"We have good resources, very good scientific bases, and the whole infrastructure - hospitals, pharmaceutical industry, biotechnology - is in place for Switzerland to have a good start in nanotechnology."

Like many participants, Heinrich Christen from Ernst and Young, Zurich, was impressed by the number of venture capitalists who are interested in investing into nanotech companies.

"The US is a very entrepreneurial country so you see a lot of people who start a little business, do the research, get the funding and develop the business. Obviously some of these businesses will not work but some will be successful and that is really amazing - the sheer size of these ventures.

A different view

"In Switzerland, it is a different business culture. Failure is considered to be failure whereas in the US failure is considered to be "he took the chance and didn't make it".

"On the other hand, Swiss companies are very strong in developing products out of their existing portfolio so I think Switzerland has a lot of strengths in developing their already present and proven technologies and in that aspect we are really a very innovative country," Christen said.

Martin Schadt, chief executive of Rolic is heading back to Chicago and Boston for further discussions with three potential collaborators.

"What was most interesting was to see the diversity of people here in the US working not only on nanotechnology but also to see the connection between the nanoworld and the world in which we live. It is very important not only to have new nanodevices but also to connect them to the real world."

The roadshow organisers were Location:Switzerland, the Swiss business promotion agency; Boston's Swiss House for Advanced Research and Education; the Swiss Business Hub (USA) in Chicago, and the Swiss science and technology office in San Francisco.

by Vincent Landon

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